Dunhuang Star Map
The Dunhuang Star Map was found in the Dunhuang Mogao Grotto(敦煌莫高窟) in a cache of manuscripts in a covered alcove. At that time, the Grottos were all but abandoned and the monk who found them was selling manuscripts piece by piece to support himself and what was left of the monastary. In 1907, Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot bought over 9000 objects and manuscripts from him. They sent trunks of items to Beijing to try to alert the government to the importance of the find, but most of the items disappeared into private collections. Much to the dismay of modern Chinese historians and archaeologists, the rest were sent to Europe. The Dunhuang Star Map is now housed in the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library.
The star map has recently been dated back to the 700s. Earlier it was thought to date to the 900s. The map contains 1,350 stars in thirteen sections. One of the most interesting features of the charts is that they used two different methods to display the stars. One was a cylindrical projection for the stars around the horizon. When you flatten a curved object it changes the relationship among the objects on the surface. It is like a Mercator projection first seen in Europe in 1568.
Imagine cutting a ball to try to flatten it. You would have large segments of empty space between the slices of ball. On a cylindrical map, the lines of the ball are straightened artificially to maintain some relationship between the objects on the ball. This works fairly well on the equator or in the case of the sky, the horizon.
When you get to the poles, the distances of the flattened slices are extremely distorted. To solve the problem, on the Dunhuang Star Map they used a circular polar projection method to draw the region around Polaris. That method, if used alone, would have distorted the measurements at the horizon. What was it doing in Dunhuang? Usually such materials would be found in imperial archives. It is speculation, but it could have been used to guide travelers along the Silk Road. Dunhuang was the last major resting place before starting on the journey on the north or south routes across the Taklamakan desert to the west.
Above is a copy of a section of the map displayed in the Beijing Ancient Observatory and below is a photograph of a section from Wikipedia where a full resolution image is available.

The Chinese star chart is the earliest known manuscript atlas of the night sky.

It was produced in central China around 700 and it shows over 1,300 stars visible to the naked eye – centuries before the telescope was invented.

The different colours – black, red and white – indicate those stars observed by three Chinese astronomers from ancient times, over 1,000 years before. They are accurately plotted using a projection system to depict the curved sky on a flat piece of paper (invented by the Chinese before the 1st century BC). 

The projection is very similar to that developed by the 16th-century Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator and still used in many maps today. The night sky is divided into 12 segments, and the final chart shows the north polar region, looking straight up.

In China, the movement of the stars in the sky was thought directly to reflect the actions of the emperor and the court on earth; a solar eclipse, for example, might be interpreted as a sign of a forthcoming coup. The emperor employed astronomers to make nightly recordings of all celestial movements, and the official histories of China's dynasties from the second century BC onwards included a chapter on astronomy.

These are important sources for astronomers today as they might hold details of, for example, sightings of a comet over 2,000 years and so provide information about its periodicity not otherwise available.

This must have therefore been a very important and politically sensitive document, yet it was found in Dunhuang, a desert outpost of the Chinese empire, over 1,000 miles away from the imperial capital and on the ancient trading route, the Silk Road.

The scroll was one among 40,000 manuscripts in a Buddhist library cave, and lay hidden after the cave was sealed in about AD 1000 until its rediscovery in 1900. Who made it and how it ended up there will probably always be a mystery.

More information about the scrolls can be found at the International Dunhuang Project.

Image result for Song Dynasty Star Map in Stone

Song Dynasty Star Map in Stone

The stone star map above is a copy of one made in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It hangs in the Ancient Observatory in Beijing. The original is housed in Suzhou. Below are photographs of a rubbing taken from the original.

During the Song Dynasty (宋朝), five star maps were created during different observation projects by imperial astronomers. The stone star map was first drawn during the reign of Emperor Yuanfeng (1078-85) and then carved into stone in 1247 by Wang Zhiyuan of the Southern Song Dynasty. On the map, the Milky Way can be seen as a large swath to the right of center. There are 1,434 stars mapped. In addition, the ecliptic, the equator, and the twenty-eight constellations are indicated. The lower part, which is not pictured, contains 209 characters, which give a sketch of the knowledge of the heavens at that time. It's the earliest complete map that still exists, although there were earlier complete maps.

The oldest known star chart or map in Chinese history is the Shi Shi star chart drawn by Shi Shen in the Warring States Period (403-221 BC). It contained the stars of the 28 xiu or constellations and over 100 stars. And of course, the Dunhuang star map which dates to the 700s is not as complete as others. The Dunhuang map is probably a copy of another earlier map that is lost to history. During the Five Dynasties (907-960) history tells us there was another stone star map engraved between 941 and 960. That too is lost.

Shen Kuo 沈括 Shěn Kuò

The talents of Shen Kuo (1031-1095) extended to almost every field of learning. He was a gifted mathematician, astronomer, geologist, poet, and produced work in medicine, biology, and botany, as well as holding government posts as diplomat, finance minister, and state inspector. He held many government positions during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) including the position as head of the Imperial Department of Astronomy.

Much of what we know about this period comes from his Dream Pool Essays (梦溪笔谈 Mèngxī Bǐ Tán), an encyclopedic account and description of many of the advances and inventions of the period. From him, we learn of the invention of movable type by Bi Sheng 畢昇, the use of the magnetic compass for navigation, and advances in architecture and medicine.

In astronomy, Shen Kuo proposed the theory that heavenly bodies were spheres based on his observations of the waxing and waning of the moon. He supported the hypothesis that the moon was reflective rather than producing light itself proposed earlier by 張衡 Zhāng Héng and others. His data, coupled with demonstrations on spheres was more influential. He described the difference between magnetic north and true north, as well as measuring the movement of the polestar over time. He improved astronomical instruments including the gnomon, clepsydra, and the armillary sphere. He embarked on a five year project with Wei Pu to measure the locations of the planets and moon. On the basis of his data he hypothesized that the planets have retrograde motion, what we call epicycles, in their orbits.

While Shen Kuo produced a calendar based on his observations it was never put into full practice, and is lost to history. By the Song Dynasty, the measurements of Yi Xing (683-727) were outdated. It was these measurements that spurred Shen Kuo to make measurements of the polestar and later of the planets. While he would have produced an improved calendar, the time was not ripe for a full revision. Through Chinese history, as we have seen, the calendar was revised periodically. Even though their concept of a calendar was much more malleable and realistic than in the west, it was still a major event to change it. As long as the old calendar could be used to predict seasons and eclipses, there was resistance to change. His observations were, however, included in the star charts of his contemporaries.

Guo Shoujing - 郭守敬

Guō Shǒujìng 郭守敬 (1231-1314) lived during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368). He was an inventor as well as a mathematician and astronomer and applied his engineering skills to improve many of the instruments used to measure celestial bodies. Among these were the gnomon, square table, abridged or simplified armilla, and a water powered armillary sphere called the Ling Long Yi. Below you will find pictures of his major inventions and improvements.

The Yuan Dynasty was a great time for science and scholarship. The Mongols opened China to many foreign ideas. This stimulated scientists to new levels of creativity.

The Mongols were not interested in destroying China but rather supported and promoted advances in knowledge. It was only four years after the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty that Guo Shoujing designed the new observatory near Dengfeng. He and another astronomer, Wang Xun, made extensive observations for a new calendar there. About 27 major observatories were built during the Yuan Dynasty, many designed by Guo Shoujing. Guo Shoujing also used his engineering skills on other projects. He designed Kunming Lake, which later became the site of the Summer Palace on the west side of Beijing.

The lake was designed both as a reservoir for the city and as part of a system of canals for transportation in the region. It is still possible to travel the canals from the Forbidden City to Kunming Lake and beyond (although tourists start at the Beijing Zoo).

Perhaps his greatest contribution was the development of the Shoushi calendar system 授时历 in 1280 A.D. To do so he used polynomial equations to the 4th order, the highest level equations ever used in astronomy and calendar calculation. Along with Wáng Xún 王恂, he applied a cubic interpolation for prediction in the Shoushi calendar. The year was calculated to be 365.2425 days.

The graph above shows the height of the sun at the winter (lower position) and summer (higher position) solstice and the measurements to be made. Below you see the gnomon with the sundial and two new instruments added to the Observatory in 2005. The low curved marble object is used to measure the equinox date. Behind the gnomon is a solarium dating to 1790.

Gnomon - 圭表

The gnomon is used to measure the angle of the sun, determine the seasons, and is the basis of the sundial. Guo Shoujing improved the measurements made with the gnomon by redesigning it to increase accuracy. More complete descriptions and additional pictures of the gnomon and the instruments shown below on this page will be found in the descriptions of the instruments at the Beijing Observatory

The abridged or simplified armilla ( 简仪 jiǎnyí )

It was invented by Guo Shoujing in 1276 AD. It is called "simplified" because it is simpler to use than the traditional armillary sphere, and it is called "abridged" because it gives a good view of the celestial sphere except around the area of Polaris. In Western astronomy it is most often called an abridged armilla, while the Chinese name translates as simplified. The abridged armilla has two rings at right angles to one another.

The single ring is aligned with the equator and is called the equatorial ring. Guo Shoujing is responsible for adding the equatorial ring. The double ring is perpendicular to the equatorial ring. Between its two rings it has the sight, a single tube that can be aimed at an individual star. Cross-hairs help make exact positioning.

The ring rotates and then points to gauges on the equatorial ring and on the double ring that tell you the position of whatever is in the sight. One of the innovations was to install four small cylinders between the main measurement ring and the equatorial plane to reduce friction and make measurement more accurate.

These cylinders are analogous to our modern ball bearings. The simplified armilla takes measurements of the position of the sun like the gnomon but it can also measure the angle of the sun at any time. This particular instrument has combined a number of instruments such as azimuth and horizon circles as well as a sundial. It can be used to measure topography and in engineering and even in practical astronomy.

It is even an astronomical compass. If you point the instrument at a known planet or star it can tell you the location of north. There is a small circle at the base with a groove within its diameter.

This groove and the groove in the square base can be filled with water to establish plumb. It is important that both the supporting structure and the instrument itself be checked to make sure the instrument remains true after a move or over time.

This abridged armilla at Beijing Ancient Observatory (古观象台) is 1/3 life size and is a copy of one made in 1439. The original was once housed in Beijing but was moved to the Purple Mountain Observatory in 1933 as the Japanese were advancing.

Abridged Armillary Sphere

The abridged armillary sphere shown in the above two pictures is a scaled model of one designed and built by Guo Shoujing during the Yuan Dynasty. It is located in the main courtyard of the Beijing Ancient Observatory. The original was moved to Nanjing for safety.

Gaocheng Observatory

Guo Shoujing designed the Gaocheng Observatory at Dengfeng in present day Henan Province in 1276, at the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty. The building is 9.46 m high and a 31.9-m-long stone measurement path called a shigui stretches out in front of the building and is used to measure the sun's shadow.

Access to the top is by an external stairway. Construction of stable towers for observation entailed building a small mountain of dirt and stone and then facing it with stone. That is what makes the sides slanted. The sheer size of the observatory lets astronomers make much more accurate observations than does the smaller gnomon shown above.

The site had been used for observatories since the Zhou Dynasty. In fact, Yi Xing constructed one of his gnomon at the site when collecting data for his Da Yan calendar. Having observations made in the same place over centuries allowed astronomers to compare celestial data over time and map changes in the heavens.

Roof Tiles - Constellations

These are replicas of roof tiles at the Ancient Observatory in Beijing. They were often used through history, but these examples are from the Ming Dynasty. They depict the Azure Dragon, the Black Turtle, the Vermillion Bird, and the White Tiger. The Chinese Zodiac is as common a part of daily life and decoration as is the western Zodiac.

Matteo Ricci

During the later part of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), Western contacts with China increased. In 1582 Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was sent by the Jesuits to China and worked there for 27 years.

His first task was to learn Chinese after which he sought out the great scholars of the time. He not only learned from them but introduced discoveries and scientific findings from the West. It was through these contacts that he gained acceptance and would eventually work in Beijing in the court of the emperor.

Ricci was born in Italy and entered the Jesuits there. He didn't come from a religious family; in fact, his father forbade the practice within the house. His father tried to remove him forcibly from the seminary at one point but was taken so ill that he concluded that God was telling him that his son really belonged in the seminary.

Just because you don't believe in religion doesn't mean you aren't superstitious. Ricci was a remarkable man, not only for his brilliance and far-reaching knowledge, but also for his tolerance and ability to understand new ideas. When he studied Chinese classics he saw in Confucianism and Daoism aspects that were consistent with the Bible and Roman Catholicism. He integrated Christian beliefs with traditional Chinese beliefs as had been done in many different cultures through the history of the Catholic Church.

His respect for the culture led him to adapt to the culture rather than try to transplant rites and traditions to a new context. It was this adaptation which in future years would lead to a major fight between the Jesuits and other orders of the Catholic priest and the eventual withdrawal of the Jesuits from China by the Pope.

Ricci made numerous contributions to Chinese science and astronomy. He collaborated on a translation of the first six books of Euclid's Elements into Chinese and taught it to the court academics. Because mathematics was developed to serve the needs of astronomy, algebra had developed to a high level but formal geometry had not. It was revolutionary but constrained. Only the advanced scholars had access to it.

Training for the Imperial examinations continued to be based on the classics. Ricci also brought new knowledge about cartography and taught that the world was a sphere. He produced a world map in 1574 and continued to make revisions until 1603. He extended his mapping to the heavens and made a copper celestial globe with Zhaoqing (肇庆) and taught students and scholars how to make astrolabes, quadrants, and sundials.

In 1605, he and Li Zhizao (李之藻, 1565-1630) wrote Qiankun Tiyi (乾坤体义), based on studies of the copper armillary sphere and its coordinate system. He collaborated on several more works in Chinese with scholars of the era. He turned his attention to the complexities of the Chinese calendar and was able to make successful predictions of eclipses. It was due in part to his repeated requests to Rome that future Jesuits sent to China arrived with books and instrumentation to further scientific work.

Xu Guangqi 徐光启, 1562-1633

Xú Guāngqǐ was born in Shanghai and having achieved the highest levels in the Imperial examinations focused on astronomy and mathematics. He was one of the scholars of the Imperial academy who studied with Matteo Ricci.

Although he was a mathematician, he was not familiar with and could not compute the higher level interpolations developed by Guo Shoujing or even those of earlier Chinese mathematicians. Scientific and mathematical knowledge had devolved during the Ming Dynasty to the point where little was required for the Imperial examinations.

Many of the great works were lost or ignored. In this context, the feats of mathematics brought by Ricci, along with the ability to teach coherently, made the mathematics of Euclid seem like a revelation. Xu Guangqi collaborated with Ricci to translate the first six books of Euclid's Elements in 1607. He worked with Ricci on studies of both hydraulics and geography. He was converted not only to Christianity but to western science and continued to work on the mathematics and astronomy after Ricci's death in 1610.

The calendar he and Ricci had been working on successfully predicted an eclipse in 1610 after Ricci's death. In 1629 Xu Guangqi had another chance to prove the effectiveness of the new mathematics and calendar system. A competition was held by the court to see which of three schools could most accurately predict the expected eclipse.

Both the traditional Chinese school and the Islamic school joined the competition, but it was Xu Guangqi and what was called the New Method School that won. The emperor appointed Xu Guangqi to reform the calendar. He continued to work with a succession of Jesuits sent with additional materials and instruments. He was succeeded by Li Tangjing, who finished the calendar reform.

Beijing Ancient Observatory - 北京古观象台

In 1279, at the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Wáng Xún (王恂) and Guō Shǒujìng (郭守敬) built an observatory near present day Jianguomen to work on observations to revise the calendar. Guō Shǒujìng (郭守敬) invented the simplified armilla shown in the diagram above on the far right in back of the sun shadow hall and in front of the main courtyard building on the left.

The simplified armilla shown on the grass at the right is on loan to another museum. He is also responsible for the square table shown in the center of the courtyard and improvements to the gnomon shown as a pillar near the grass courtyard in the lower left.

In 1442, in the early part of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), during the reign of Emperor Zhèngtǒng (正統), a new observatory was built near the site of the first. With modifications made in the later Ming and during the Qing Dynasty, it survives today. Originally the observatory was integrated into the outer wall of Beijing. The form of the observatory is defined by the building techniques used for battlements.

A large mound of earth was piled up and then an outer shell of bricks or granite was mortared into place. The sloping sides made it impervious to earthquakes and the solid interior prevented successful attacks from fire or shelling.

Access to the top was provided by an exterior stairway. Today there is also an interior stairway leading to the top. In the Ming Dynasty, the observatory had an armillary sphere, abridged armilla, and a celestial globe in addition to the standard gnomon. The tower served as a gnomon itself and is called the Sun's Shadow Hall.

In 1644, the Manchus conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty. When they took over Beijing, they changed the name of the observatory from Guān Xiàng Tǎi 观象台 to Tiān Wén Tǎi 天文台. Today it is officially known as Běijīng Guān Xiàng Tǎi (北京古观象台) although unofficially it is often called Gǔdài Tiān Wén Tǎi (古代天文台), both mean Ancient Observatory.

During the reign of Emperor Kangxi, between 1667 and 1674, six additional instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest were added: equatorial armilla, ecliptic armilla, quadrant, celestial globe, sextant, and altazimuth. They are described on the following pages. Two additional instruments were added later, the azimuth theodolite and the new armilla.

Below is a picture taken in 1895 by William Henry Jackson showing the instruments on top of the sun's shadow tower at the end of the Qing Dynasty (from the Library of Congress transportation archives). The most interesting part of the picture is the background of open farm land. The observatory now abuts one of the busiest expressways in the world and is surrounded by complexes of modern skyscrapers.

The sundial 日晷

rìguǐ is a specialized gnomon. The shaft is actually called a gnomon. The examples on this page are equatorial sundials, meaning they are aligned with the equatorial plane. The dial will be higher in the south celestial pole and lower in the north celestial pole.

You read the upper part of the dial in the summer (from the vernal equinox to the autumn equinox) and the lower part of the dial in the winter (from the autumn equinox to the vernal equinox). The equinox is defined as that point at which the sun's path or ecliptic crosses the equatorial plane of the earth.

When that happens you can't really tell time from the sundial. Another difficulty with sundials is shown in the picture below of the sundial at the Palace Museum at the Forbidden City. When it rains, you might as well take the day off if you are the Emperor's timekeeper. That gave rise to the urge to invent clepsydra and other types of predictable clocks.

They could be checked and set by the sundial when the need arose. The astronomer in the court would also take exact star readings at night to provide accurate checks on the "mechanical" clocks. Both sundials date from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

One is located at the Ancient Observatory in Beijing and the one below stands in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony as a symbol that the Emperor was the source of the standards of time. Timekeeping is an important government function in any culture.

Time must be standard if it is to be of any use. In every Chinese city, the time was announced by soundings from Drum and Bell Towers. The drums would signal the changes of the guard through the night, sounding every two hours. They would muster troops at 3 in the morning. The bell would sound at dawn as it was quite a bit louder than the drums. The bell in Beijing could be heard for 20 kilometers.

Gnomon - 圭表

This gnomon (guībiǎo 圭表) was based on a model made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) of the gnomon developed by Guo Shoujing in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Guo Shoujing changed the gnomon from a simple stick that measured the length of the shadow cast by the sun into a more precise instrument by adding a scale to the base and placing a crossbar across the top with which to measure the exact position of the shadow.

Notice the leveling trough that could assure a level surface, align the gnomon, and provide a perfectly smooth surface for measurement, at least on a calm day. Below you will find a detail of the scale used for measurement.

It is in 尺 chǐ, one-third of a meter, or approximately a foot. The original is now in the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing where it was moved for safety when the Japanese invaded in the 1930s. The present copy at the Beijing Ancient Observatory (古观象台) was made in 1983.

The measure shown is seven chi or feet -- qīchǐ 七尺.

The Square Table

(Zhèngfāng Zhài - 正方寨) was designed by Guō Shǒujìng 郭守敬 during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). It was used to measure the azimuth of celestial bodies by the equal altitude method and could also be used as protractor.

Armillary Sphere - 浑仪

The armillary sphere (hún yí 浑仪) in the courtyard of the Ancient Observatory in Beijing is a full sized replica of a sphere produced in the Ming Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Zhengtong (1439). The original was moved to the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing in 1931.

The armillary sphere's structure was very simple at the beginning, with three rings and a metal axis. The axis was oriented to the North and South Poles. The outermost ring, the meridian ring, was fixed in the north-south direction.

The middle ring, the equatorial ring, was aligned to the earth's equatorial plane. Finally, the innermost one, the Chijing ring, had a sighting tube and could revolve around the metal axis. To use the armillary, one pointed the sight at a particular star and then you read the angles off the different rings to identify the exact position of the star.

Later, more rings were added to take different measurements, so that the modern examples from the Ming dynasty are much more elaborate than the originals. On the base of the armillary you can see a shallow trough in the square base.

This was filled with water to level the instrument. A method to attach a plumb line might also have been available since it was a common instrument, but it is not immediately apparent.

Qiánshān 乾山 - Zhōu Yì 周易

Each of the four mountains surrounding the armillary is marked with a symbol from the I Ching, or Book of Changes, (易经 Yì Jīng 周易 Zhōu Yì ). Each of the eight trigrams in the I Ching also stands for a direction. The mountains stand at the ☰ 乾 qián northwest, ☴ 巽 xùn southeast,☶ 艮 gèn northeast, ☷ 坤 kūn southwest corners. The symbol pictured above is 乾山 Qián Shān or northwest. It is the symbol for heaven in the I Ching.

The Eight Trigrams and their directions are:

NorthWest    West    South East    Southeast    North    Northwest   Southwest   

heaven Qián

marsh Duì

fire Lí

thunder Zhèn

wind Xùn

water Kǎn

hill Gèn

earth Kūn

The I Ching, or Book of Changes, or, as it is translated today, Classics of Changes was compiled from writings and beliefs that predate the Xia Dynasty.

While traditionally attributed to Fú Xī (伏羲), discoveries on oracle bones place its beginning much earlier.

The inclusion of the symbols on the armillary shows the close ties between the traditions of astrology and astronomy.

Johann Adam Schall von Bell - 汤若望 - 1591-1666

The German born Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell arrived in Macao in 1619 and remained there studying Chinese and mathematics until chance led to an invitation in 1623 to go to Beijing to help the Chinese military defend itself from northern invasion!

During an attack on the Portuguese by the Dutch in Macao, Schall von Bell had shown himself to be adept at firing canons. He quickly showed that he had other skills and was soon immersed in the calculations and observations for the calendar.

He joined Xu Guangqi and John Terrentius in 1629 to win the competition put forth by the emperor to predict the exact time of the eclipse which occurred on June 21st. Also in 1629, Schall von Bell published a treatise on the manufacture and use of the telescope, Yuanjing Shuo (远镜说, Explanation of the Telescope).

He had probably brought the first telescope to China with other instruments and books in 1619. He had a long and successful career as a court mathematician and astronomer writing numerous works and translating others.

He was drawn into the inner circle and was consulted on many matters. He finished the work on the calendar begun by Xu Guangqi, and the Jesuits Terrenz, Longobardi and Rho. In 1635 he presented the last of the new calendar, the Chongzhen Lishu (崇祯历书, the Calendar of the Chongzhen Emperor), to the court.

The Emperor turned to him again for military assistance when the northern tribes were again proving troublesome. Schall von Bell protested that he was a man of peace but finally consented to oversee the casting and testing of several small canons. While his were never used, the knowledge allowed the government to produce more.

The canon didn't help; the Ming Dynasty was overthrown and the Manchu tribes established the Qing Dynasty. In 1645 the new Qing government appointed him to develop a new calendar. He quickly completed the task, basing it on the Chongzhen Lishu.

The appointment of Schall von Bell to head astronomy didn't sit well with the Chinese astronomers. In the 1660s Yang Kuang manipulated the imperial court into bringing charges against the Jesuits for teaching false mathematics, astronomy, and religion. They and their Chinese assistants were condemned to death in November 1664.

On the morning that the sentence was to be carried out, an earthquake hit Beijing and sections of the Imperial Palace were destroyed both by the quake and subsequent fires. Taking this as a sign from the heavens, the court freed the Jesuits, but the Chinese assistants were executed. Schall von Bell died soon afterward on August 15, 1666 at the age of 75.

Following his death, the Kangxi Emperor restored his honors, purged Yang Kuang, and eventually appointed Ferdinand Verbiest as head of the observatory. Schall von Bell spent 47 years in China. He is more a part of Chinese history and science than he is western science.

In Chinese his name is 约翰·亚当·沙尔·冯·贝尔 when based on the western pronunciation, but von Bell adopted a Chinese name. He is also known as 汤若望 Tang Ruowang in Chinese publications and history.

Ferdinand Verbiest 南懷仁, 1562-1633

Following the death of Johann Adam Schall von Bell in 1666, the Kangxi Emperor appointed Ferdinand Verbiest as Vice-Director of the Astronomical Bureau in 1669 and charged him with calendar creation. Verbiest (1623-1688) was born in Belgium and originally wanted to join the Spanish missions in South America.

The request from Schall von Bell for additional help in the Chinese mission came first and Verbiest had the training and talent. Verbiest had arrived in Macao in 1659 and only traveled up to Beijing later. When he arrived, Schall von Bell and others were in prison.

Although Verbiest tried to defend them, he failed. The earthquake that convinced the court to free the Jesuit astronomers also set the scene for Verbiest's great works. He, as previous Jesuits before him, studied Chinese and took a Chinese name (南怀仁 Nan Huairen), but additionally, he added Manchu to his list of languages.

He taught the Kangxi Emperor many subjects and translated the first six books of Euclid into Manchu for him. His abilities as a linguist gave him varied opportunities both within the court and in academics.

It allowed him to make contributions in science but also in diplomacy. Following his appointment to the Bureau of Astronomy his first task was to work on the calendar for the Kangxi Emperor. For this work, the Kangxi Yongnian Lifa (康熙永年历法, the Perpetual Calendar of the Kangxi Emperor) he found that he needed new instruments.

From sometime after 1669 to 1674 he worked on the designs for and the creation of six instruments: the ecliptic armillary sphere, the equatorial armillary sphere, the azimuth, the quadrant, the sextant, and the stellar globe. Pictures of each are found on the following pages. The instruments were installed atop the Beijing Observatory alongside the traditional Chinese instruments.

In 1674, Verbiest wrote the Xinzhi Lingtai Yixiang Zhi (新制灵台仪象志, Disclosure on the Newly-Built Astronomical Instruments in the Observatory) to describe the design, use, and function of the instruments as well as giving exact instruction for their production and replication. The work spanned 16 volumes. Verbiest worked with skilled Chinese bronze casters who could transform his designs into exact instrumentation.

Verbiest worked from designs brought from Europe and based on those of Tycho Brahe. The instruments were able to make measurements down to 15 seconds of arc. The primary reason for building the instruments was to introduce a new scale to Chinese measurement. The Chinese equatorial circle had been divided into 365.25 degrees to agree with the solar day.

Verbiest used the European 360 degree circle to simplify the mathematics of calendar making. Screws and spirals were added to allow the instruments to be calibrated. Each had a method to establish plumb.

While the Chinese had developed equatorial armillary spheres, the ecliptic armillary sphere was new, as was the quadrant, sextant and astrolabe. It is interesting that the development of the equatorial armillary sphere in Europe, long used by the Chinese, was what allowed Brahe and Kepler to define the solar system.

Verbiest made extensive contributions to cartography as well. He wrote over 30 books, many of them devoted to science and mathematics. He cast canons and invented a new type of carriage for them. He even had time to invent the automobile!

He placed a steam pump into an enclosing oven and put the whole thing on wheels.

He was able to tootle around the grounds of the palace for a demonstration. The work was probably part of his interest in hydraulics. He produced several pump designs and built an aqueduct to help regulate water and prevent flooding along river basins.

Altazimuth - 地平经仪

This is one of the instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest in 1673. The altazimuth is used to measure the position of celestial bodies relative to the celestial horizon and the zenith. Thus it is the altitude azimuth.

Celestial Globe - 1673 - 天体仪

This is one of the instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest. The celestial globe is used to map and identify celestial objects. You can click on the following picture to get a close view of the detail of the markings and the scales used.

Ecliptic Armilla - 1673 - 黄道经纬仪

This is one of the instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest. The ecliptic armilla measures the ecliptic longitude difference and latitudes of celestial bodies. The ecliptic armilla was the traditional European device while the Chinese developed the equatorial armilla and used it as the basis for celestial spheres and armillary clocks. The equatorial armilla built by Vebiest .

Quadrant - 1673 - 象限仪

The Quadrant Altazimuth 象限仪地平纬仪 was made in 1673 (Qing Dynasty) and designed for measuring altitudes or zenith distances of celestial bodies. This is one of the instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest.

Sextant - 1673 - 纪限仪

The sextant is used to measure the angle of elevation of a celestial object above the horizon. It is used to calculate the angle between two objects, although it is limited to 60 degrees of arc. In navigation, it is used to to take a measure of the angle of the sun at noon to determine latitude. This is one of the instruments designed by Ferdinand Verbiest.

Azimuth Theodolite 地平经纬仪

Later in 1715, Bernard-Kilian Stumpf, 1655-1720 (纪理安 Jì Lǐān) designed another instrument--- azimuth theodolite. A theodolite is used to measure both horizontal and vertical angles. The azimuth theodolite was used to measure the azimuths and altitudes of celestial bodies.

New Armillary Sphere - 玑衡抚辰仪

In 1744, Emperor Qian Long ordered that another instrument be built; one that came to be called the New Armilla in English.

This armillary sphere 浑仪 (hún yí) or 浑天仪 (húntiān yí) is used to determine true solar time as well as measure the right ascension difference and declination of celestial bodies.

The full name in Chinese is 玑衡抚辰仪 (Jīhéng fǔchén yí).

In Chinese the instrument is called Ji1heng2 because it is named after two of the stars in the Big Dipper - 天玑 (Tiānjī) and 玉衡 (Yùhéng) so abbreviated it is called 玑衡 (Jīhéng). 抚辰 (fǔchén) means to measure carefully, and 仪 (yí) is a general word for instrument that is used for most astronomical instruments. The instrument was designed by Ignatius Koegler (1680-1746) and Augustein de Hallerstein (1703-1774).

As instructed by Emperor Qianlong, they designed an instrument that was based on the traditional Chinese equatorial armillary but incorporated the 360° standard measurement. They also added the adjustment screws and the ability to replace worn parts with spares. Like other equatorial armillas it was used to measure true solar time as well as the right ascension difference and declination of celestial bodies.

Celestial Globe - 天体仪

In ancient times the celestial globe was called the húnxiàng 浑象, roughly translated that means "entire shape." Today the standard name is tiāntǐ yí 天体仪. The original of the instrument shown above in the ancient Beijing Observatory was made in the 12th reign year of Emperor Kāngxī 康熙, or 1673.

The original globe weighed 3850 kilograms or 8487.79 pounds. The main components of the celestial globe are the hollow bronze globe, the meridian circle (子午圈 zǐwǔquán) and the equatorial ring (地平圈, dìpíngquán). In addition, there are several bands that circle the globe with fine markings for measurement (see close-up below).

Over 800 stars are positioned on the globe, some connected by lines to indicate groups in constellations. The names of the major constellations are included. The globe shown is a copy of the globe made in the Qing Dynasty.

It has been reduced by the ratio 1:2.5. One advantage to having a copy is that it has been electrified so that the stars are lit from within and shine as it rotates in sync with the earth. Celestial globes were used to chart the positions of the stars and as aids to calendar making. Some were built on a large scale so that a person could sit inside one and look at the stars -- the star positions were raised symbols on the outside of the globe but were also small holes that let light pass through from outside.

In the background, from left to right, you can see a rubbing of the Song Dynasty Stone Star Map, an instrument tower that combines a water powered armillary sphere, a celestial globe and a clepsydra built in the Song Dynasty, and to the right under the windows, a steelyard clepsydra.

The Allied Forces of the Eight Powers moved on Beijing in 1900 to defend against the Boxer Rebellion. The embassies were under siege as was much of Beijing. After the troops rescued the embassies, they occupied Beijing for a short time. During this time the French and German forces looted the observatory and sent the instruments home. The French returned the equatorial armilla, the ecliptic armilla, the azimuth theodolite, the quadrant and the abridged armilla two years later, in 1902. It took longer to convince the Germans to return the instruments sent to Berlin. In 1921 the German government returned the Ming armillary sphere, the Qing armillary sphere, the Qing celestial globe, an armilla and the sextant as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty following World War I. Many of the instruments took another trip as the Japanese forces moved toward Beijing in 1931. Some of the instruments were shipped to Nanjing for safe-keeping at the Purple Mountain Observatory and Nanjing Museum. Many of them remain there to this day and replicas were made for display at the Beijing Observatory. It is not easy to get a museum director to give up an acquisition.

Gao Lu 高鲁

Gāo Lǔ was born in 1877. His father died when he was young but his brilliance won him many scholarships. By 24 he was admitted to the Manwei Shipbuilding College and was subsequently sent to Belgium to attend the University of Brussels. He studied ancient Chinese astronomy as well as getting a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

In Paris he became involved with the new movement of Sun Yatsen and when he returned to Belgium in 1905, he organized students there to join the democracy movement. In 1911 he returned to Fuzhou with Sun Yatsen. By 1914, having occupied several other posts, he was appointed the first director of the Beijing Observatory. He turned his attention to meteorology and weather prediction as well as planning and designing the expansion of the Beijing Observatory.

Over his career, he was instrumental in the founding of the Chinese Astronomical Society (1922) and the establishment of the Academia Sinica (1929) and he served as the first director of each. He was appointed as Minister to France in 1931 and on his return to China in 1932 was appointed Minister of Education.

He and others began to work to promote the funding of the Purple Mountain Observatory and he participated in the design and site selection. The work was completed in 1937 just as the Anti-Japanese war reached Nanjing. It wasn't until after the war that real research could be conducted at the new observatory.

In 1942 Gao Lu was in a car accident and never totally recovered from his injuries. The following year he suffered a stroke while addressing the General Assembly during a celebration. He died in Fuzhou in 1947.

All photography & this article 

© Marilyn Shea, 2007

Views: 93

Replies to This Discussion

wow amazing information, thank you for posting it

Indeed. I scrolled down to Like to further save. I'll be coming back to work with a lot of info not to be taken in altogether in one sitting.

I am glad you guys liked this. 

I loved that image, thanks a lot for it,RobertO!

yeah, I found it once and directly love it, and could use it now :)

Thanks, RobertO! 

It made my day!

It is beautiful and so true... 

Besides Sun, Moon, Pluto and Saturn, there is Mercury and the the South Node of the Moon in Capricorn. 

It seems quite transcendental, this eclipse...

Thank you for the information.

Well, this is not quite correct, for example I am a Rat, but not a fire rat, they also use the elements to distinguish between animals born during a sixty year cycle, , every twelve year they assign a different element, and you can not compare the twelve monthly signs, with their twelve years animals.

Plus Western Astrology only have four elements, and Chinese Astrology uses five elements.

The basis are so different that you can not compare them at all.

For example, in Mayan Astrology, their year has only 260 days, and in order to adapt it to this Earth, they had to engage in tremendous calculations to bring it to an equivalent of 365 days.

Yes, I am well aware of that, but that chart is an attempt to reconcile what is not reconcilable.

I am an Astrologer, but as I said before, and we both commented on the showing of the new planet Far Out, what is happening is that we have no full knowledge of all the sky and how it affects us and the thousands of variants that can change a prediction.

Ther3e must have ben a time when men knew more about all of this, and when Astrology may have been a perfect science, but it is not now.

And then came the religions that negated its validity and all of that.

Because of the incompleteness of our knowledge, I think is dangerous to predict incorrectly.  

There are things that we can use to our advantage, in order to know ourselves better, like our main traits and characters and our tendencies and inclinations and the reasons for it.

Even if Far Out is there, he is far out and it does not affect us the same way the Moon, our closest object, affects us.

Thus, we do not know it all, but we know enough to have a workable situation, however predictions is a different kind of game.

Whether we have free will or not is debatable, as well, but in either case, since our real self is not our personality, what we desire, if we could obtain it immediately, most of the time would be proven harmful to us, because the rest of us is not ready for it.

Thus there is so much to take into account, that there is nothing better than to live in the moment and  learn the lessons that we acquired with our past mistakes, and prevent harmful stuff for the future, but not want to see any future, because it is a negation of our free will and our ability to do our inner work and progress due to our own efforts.

Yes, I am well aware of that, but that chart is an attempt to reconcile what is not reconcilable.

Both Chinese and Western Astrology have their variations, but they do not belong together, like that.

I am an Astrologer, but as I said before, and we both commented on the showing of the new planet Far Out, what is happening is that we have no full knowledge of all the sky and how it affects us and the thousands of variants that can change a prediction.

There must have been a time when men knew more about all of this, and when Astrology may have been a perfect science, but it is not now.

And then came the religions that negated its validity and all of that.

Because of the incompleteness of our knowledge, I think is dangerous to predict incorrectly.  

There are things that we can use to our advantage, in order to know ourselves better, like our main traits and characters and our tendencies and inclinations and the reasons for it.

Even if Far Out is there, he is far out and it does not affect us the same way the Moon, our closest object, affects us.

Thus, we do not know it all, but we know enough to have a workable situation, however predictions is a different kind of game.

Whether we have free will or not is debatable, as well, but in either case, since our real self is not our personality, what we desire, if we could obtain it immediately, most of the time would be proven harmful to us, because the rest of us is not ready for it.

Thus there is so much to take into account, that there is nothing better than to live in the moment and  learn the lessons that we acquired with our past mistakes, and prevent harmful stuff for the future, but not want to see any future, because it is a negation of our free will and our ability to do our inner work and progress due to our own efforts.


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